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The Sound of Innovation

The Sound of Innovation: Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

Andrew J. Nelson
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Sound of Innovation
    Book Description:

    In the 1960s, a team of Stanford musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists used computing in an entirely novel way: to produce and manipulate sound and create the sonic basis of new musical compositions. This group of interdisciplinary researchers at the nascent Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced "karma") helped to develop computer music as an academic field, invent the technologies that underlie it, and usher in the age of digital music. InThe Sound of Innovation, Andrew Nelson chronicles the history of CCRMA, tracing its origins in Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory through its present-day influence on Silicon Valley and digital music groups worldwide. Nelson emphasizes CCRMA's interdisciplinarity, which stimulates creativity at the intersections of fields; its commitment to open sharing and users; and its pioneering commercial engagement. He shows that Stanford's outsized influence on the emergence of digital music came from the intertwining of these three modes, which brought together diverse supporters with different aims around a field of shared interest. Nelson thus challenges long-standing assumptions about the divisions between art and science, between the humanities and technology, and between academic research and commercial applications, showing how the story of a small group of musicians reveals substantial insights about innovation. Nelson draws on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with digital music pioneers; the book's website provides access to original historic documents and other material.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32881-4
    Subjects: Education, Music
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    Eight musicians filed into the chamber music hall, dressed in all black and wearing focused expressions. Silently, they fanned into a semicircle across the front of the room, just feet away from the closest audience members. The sound of creaking chairs accompanied fumbling efforts by the last few attendees to turn off their mobile phones. What happened next, however, resulted from the musicians’ failure to turn off theirownphones. It was not an accident.

    The musicians’ focus turned to their iPhones, each held snugly in one hand. Small, amplified speakers hung off each of their wrists, held in place...

  5. 2 Setting the Stage (pp. 13-18)

    To understand CCRMA’s emergence, it is useful to step back to World War II. For the first years of that conflict, the Allies relied overwhelmingly on aerial bombardment as the means to engage the Germans. The casualties associated with this approach were overwhelming, with an estimated 2 to 20 percent of planes lost on any given mission. Germany’s electronic air defense system—a network of radars and antiaircraft guns that enabled them to track, intercept, and destroy Allied planes—was formidable and lethal.

    An intense Allied effort focused, therefore, on determining details of the German system and on further developing...

  6. 3 The First Movement (pp. 19-46)

    In 1934, as the United States was deep in the Great Depression, the rural town of Salem, New Jersey welcomed its newest resident into the world: John Chowning. Chowning held an early interest in music, playing violin from the age of seven and percussion instruments from the age of twelve. His talent as a percussionist, in fact, would take him around the world—literally: after high school, he served a three-year tour as a musician in the navy.¹

    Back in the United States, Chowning attended Wittenberg University in Ohio under the GI Bill, graduating with a Bachelor of Music in...

  7. 4 Tension and Release (pp. 47-72)

    In a 2004 article inScience, Diane Rhoten and Andrew Parker argue that even as “interdisciplinary research has become synonymous with all things progressive about research and education,” traditional disciplinary boundaries, university departmental structures, and institutional incentive systems make the practice of interdisciplinary research challenging—especially for junior scholars who may lack the resources and the protection afforded by tenure.¹ This view informs one interpretation of the difficulties that Chowning faced when his tenure case underwent review. He had published an article on the moving sound technique that appeared in theJournal of the Audio Engineering Societyin 1971.² His...

  8. 5 Duet for Stanford and Yamaha (pp. 73-96)

    The CCRMA–Yamaha relationship serves, for many observers, as a model of university technology transfer: a university-based research group and a commercial firm collaborating over many years to develop a technical breakthrough into a widespread product. Undoubtedly, the relationship has yielded enormous benefits for each organization and for computer music as a whole. Yet it also raised new questions that continue to confront university technology transfer efforts.

    Relationships between universities and industry, and the broader expectations surrounding these relationships, have changed considerably over time. In a detailed study of how academic science became more market oriented, Elizabeth Popp Berman contrasts...

  9. 6 From Exposition to Development (pp. 97-122)

    One point of inquiry surrounding CCRMA concerns accounting for its emergence. Thus, earlier chapters have detailed how the national landscape and institutional features associated with both Stanford and the music department provided fertile ground for CCRMA to develop. We have also seen that the ability of early CCRMA advocates to assemble a diverse group of supporters—commercial interests, government agencies, artificial intelligence pioneers, composers, and others—and to repurpose existing resources enabled both the center’s establishment and its sustenance in its first years, albeit with considerable challenges.

    A second point of inquiry surrounding CCRMA concerns its sustenance and renewal over...

  10. 7 Plucking the Golden Gate Bridge (pp. 123-142)

    The April 25, 1985, edition of theSan Francisco Chroniclefeatured a story on the terrific success of the Yamaha DX7. A picture alongside the story showed Niels Reimers, the Stanford OTL director, next to the CCRMA-facilitated instrument. The headline, however, read “Why U.S. Inventions Profit Foreigners.”¹ Far from unabashed praise for the instrument and the CCRMA–Yamaha relationship that gave rise to it, the article questioned why a foreign company was profiting—handsomely—from a US invention.

    An important part of the Bayh–Dole Act of 1980, the legislation that eased patenting of federally funded university research, is that...

  11. 8 Recapitulation and Variations (pp. 143-158)

    If the 1990s were marked, in part, by concern with hands-on commercialization and intellectual property, then a resurgence of free and open sharing have characterized the new millennium at CCRMA. To be clear, open innovation never disappeared at CCRMA. Faculty, staff, and students alike always supported the free and open sharing of resources, research, music, and software. As Bill Schottstaedt recalled, it was assumed that all code at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab was open to anyone, apparently a long-standing tradition in the Lisp computer language community.¹ (Lisp became the preferred language for AI.) As discussed in chapter 4, CCRMA...

  12. 9 Coda (pp. 159-170)

    Today, digital music is widespread: Our phones function as musical instruments and media players, electronic keyboards fill shelves at Target and Walmart, and entry-level Apple computers carry far more processing power and more sophisticated music software than CCRMA’s $87,500 Samson Box. As we reflect on the surge of digital music into everyday life, CCRMA deserves much of the credit: the center’s faculty, staff, and students invented and commercialized key technologies; they populate academic programs and commercial firms around the world; and, perhaps most important, their success with crossing disciplinary boundaries, engaging in open innovation, and commercializing their research added legitimacy...

  13. Appendix: Interviews Conducted by Author (pp. 171-172)
  14. Notes (pp. 173-208)
  15. References (pp. 209-226)
  16. Index (pp. 227-236)
  17. Back Matter (pp. 237-239)